Step 1: Get a visa
Most Theme Park Insider readers can travel to Disney's theme parks in France and Japan (and sometimes Hong Kong) without needing to get a visa in addition to their passport. But China does not (for the most part) allow visa-free travel into the country for Americans, Canadians, or citizens of the U.K. That means that you will have to apply for and obtain a visa before booking travel to Shanghai Disneyland.
If you are an American and live in the Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles areas, this might be easier than if you don't. China requires you to apply, pay for, and pick up your visa in person at its embassy or consulates, which are located in those cities. Here are the instructions. If you don't want to or can't take the time to apply in person, you will need to hire an agency to apply on your behalf. Check with your local auto club, if you are a member, or a local travel agency, if there are any left in your community. Otherwise, hit Google and search for "China visa" and take your pick of agencies. A visa costs $140 for American citizens, in addition to whatever agency fees you end up needing to pay if you don't apply in person.
Sound like a hassle? There is another way.
Alternate Step 1: Don't get a visa
China allows visa-free travel into the country for Americans and residents of many other countries who are transiting through Shanghai on their way to another country. You can stay in Shanghai up to 144 hours before you have to depart, and if you do, you won't need to obtain a visa in advance.
Here's the catch, though: This exemption is for transit visitors. That means you cannot fly into Shanghai and return to the same country. You must fly onto a different country when leaving Shanghai than the one from which you flew into Shanghai. And the transit visa exemption is good only when you fly directly into Shanghai. You can't make your connection in Beijing first.
So you'll have to book your airfare to Shanghai as part of a multi-city "open jaw" trip, rather than a traditional round-trip ticket. I use the "multiple destinations" option on Momondo.com to check airfares for trips such as this. For Disney fans, I'd suggest visiting Japan as the third country for a visa-free Shanghai Disneyland trip, then flying from Shanghai to Tokyo to visit Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. (Talk about a dream vacation!)
Whatever itinerary you select, make sure that it does not force you into connecting through Beijing. If you travel there, even for a connection, you will need to have applied for a Chinese visa.
Also remember that the clock starts ticking on your 144 hours as soon as your flight arrives. Your scheduled departure from Shanghai must be within 144 hours of your flight's arrival time for you to qualify for the visa exemption. Here's the FAQ.
Step 2: Find a place to stay
Your easiest option is to stay at one of the two official, on-site hotels at the Shanghai Disneyland Resort: the Disneyland Hotel or the Toy Story Hotel. Both are run by Disney and rates start at about US$130 a night for the Toy Story Hotel and about $286 a night for the Disneyland Hotel. If you don't want to stay on-site, you can find several hotels from western chains with lower nightly rates in the area, though the expense and travel time to and from the park might not make them a better deal than staying on site.
You can book Shanghai Disneyland's hotels through its website.
Step 3: Get your tickets
Again, you'll want to go to the official Shanghai Disneyland website to buy your tickets in advance. As with other Disney theme parks now, admission ticket prices vary by the date of visit, and tickets might not be available at the front gate on your date of visit if you do not buy them in advance. High-season tickets cost $77 a day, so fans of Disney's U.S. theme parks should see this as a bargain anyway.
You also might want to download the official Shanghai Disneyland app to buy and store your tickets, check wait times and navigate your way around the park. The app looks and works much like the official Disneyland app for the Anaheim park. Shanghai Disneyland also offers Fastpass ride reservations, but no Disney World-style advance reservation Fastpass+.
Step 4: Make your other arrangements
Do you have special dietary needs? Traveling with disabilities? Wondering what to pack? Shanghai Disneyland has you covered. Follow those links for the help you need. Temperatures in Shanghai range from 50 degrees in winter to the 90s in summer. Humidity is definitely a thing, as is China's notorious air pollution. Dress appropriately, and plan to get inside and rest when you need it.
Step 5: Get to the park
Shanghai Disneyland has its own stop on the Shanghai Metro rail system, but if you're flying in to Pudong International Airport, frankly, it looks as if you could walk to Shanghai Disney in not much more time than it would take to navigate the rail network. So your best bet appears to be to hail a taxi at the airport and let it drive you to the resort, which is about 15 miles away from Pudong airport. If you're staying off-site, check to see if your hotel has a shuttle from the airport, or one to the park for that matter.
And finally, remember to submit your photos and attraction and restaurant ratings to our Theme Park Insider Shanghai Disneyland page when you return, to help other Insiders plan their Shanghai Disneyland vacations.
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